• July 2011

Need a New Event-Planning Approach? Here Are 7 Engaging Strategies

By Roxanne Rukowicz Ladd, Principal
Behind the Scenes Events

I’m embarrassed to admit that early in my career, I fell prey to repeating one of the ultimate cop-outs: “We are doing this event this way because this is the way things have always been done.”

Chalk it up to any number of reasons: lack of time or energy to offer a broader explanation, lack of interest in truly delving into the issue, or, simply, having heard the same response myself when I had asked, Why?

The reality is that a decade ago, when the economy was humming along, and business seemed to come easy, this status-quo approach was acceptable.

But it doesn’t work today. Organizations, nonprofits, and associations alike must constantly strive to adjust and grow to meet the needs of their constituents to remain relevant, interesting—and in business.

So step outside your comfort zone, and take some risks. Here’s how.

1. Know your audience. For the clients we work with, the new economy has fueled a need for increased networking opportunities and less of an interest in education forums, unless those educational opportunities afford credit toward degree programs. This adjustment happened slowly and as a response to the downturn in the economy. It would not have been clear had the organizations not queried their membership.

2. And while you’re asking … Utilize the opportunity to inquire about their preferences in determining the logistical details. Small adjustments like the time of day the events are held, length of programming, and the location of meetings can have a big impact on the likeliness that your potential audience will attend. Organizations should cater to their guests’ schedules, instead of the other way around. Keep it easy and simple for folks to attend.

3. Understand the gens. Realize that going forward you are going to have to please three generations: the youthful Gen Y; older, more experienced, and all-to-often very tired Gen X; and even Baby Boomers, who have seen it all. In a few years, we’ll also add Gen Z to the mix, but at the moment they are still in middle school. Because these different age groups have had vastly different experiences in the workforce, and still have goals, and all learn in different ways—you must adjust how you disseminate information at your events. Good luck, because it’s not easy. But it is critical to the success of your event.

4. Stay fresh. Engage new talent, particularly those who dare to ask, Why? They are your allies.

5. Ask for feedback. As with most association or corporate events, you can almost be sure that a similar event will be held again next year. So ask attendees for feedback as to what worked, what didn’t, and what they would like to see more of. Don’t be afraid of what you might learn. Criticism is critical to positive growth.

6. Go slow. Change can be scary for some. Plan for incremental changes if there is a fear of too-much too-soon.

7. Get excited! Although it may seem daunting to plan an event in a new way, this is also an opportunity to try new things and take well-considered risks. Once you do, and are successful, you can market your organization as one that is on the cutting-edge, and increasingly relevant and changing and growing with the times. After all, your goal is to benefit your potential guests or members. They will take notice!

About Roxanne Rukowicz Ladd

Ranked one of the top meeting and event planners in Washington, DC, for 2009 and 2010 by the Washington Business Journal, Roxanne Rukowicz Ladd’s Behind the Scenes Events, opened its doors in July 2008. Her goal is to offer organizations and individual access to affordable, full-service meeting and event-planning solutions.

Ladd has worked in the DC meeting and event industry for more than a decade, starting her career in 1999 at the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

Her extensive association and nonprofit planning skills are accented by experience working in the social and entertainment markets. Positions with the Walt Disney Companies and as a freelance wedding and special-event coordinator have provided opportunities with A-list celebrity clients and top-ranking government officials.

For more information, visit Behind the Scenes Events.